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Are bipolar manipulative?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in mood and energy levels. Those with bipolar disorder can experience severe highs known as mania, and debilitating lows known as depression. There are different types of bipolar disorder, with bipolar I being the most severe form involving intense manic episodes. While the mood changes of bipolar disorder are not in a person’s control, there is some debate around whether those with bipolar can exhibit manipulative behaviors.

Do bipolar people manipulate without realizing it?

Some research has suggested that those with bipolar disorder may engage in manipulation without realizing it. This is especially true during manic phases when judgment is impaired. Mania can cause feelings of impulsivity, invincibility, and racing thoughts. This may lead some with bipolar to use manipulation to fulfill grandiose ideas or visions. They may make unreasonable demands of loved ones or act recklessly. While this behavior can appear cold and calculated, it often stems from the impaired judgment and lack of inhibition caused by mania.

Bipolar manipulation during manic episodes is often not intentional or premeditated. The person is acting erratically due to a mood disorder they cannot control. Once the mania subsides, many are shocked at their own actions. Some key signs of unintentional bipolar manipulation during mania include:

  • Showing unusual impatience and irritability
  • Making reckless decisions without regard for consequences
  • Starting many tasks but not finishing them
  • Having racing thoughts that lead to impulsive statements or grandiose ideas
  • Acting inappropriately or sexually impulsive
  • Having delusions of grandeur and unrealistic goals

If someone exhibits these behaviors, know it likely stems from their bipolar mania and is not purposeful manipulation.

Can bipolar be associated with purposeful manipulation?

While manic episodes may lead to unplanned manipulation in some, purposeful manipulation is not a key trait of bipolar disorder. However, some researchers have explored whether certain symptoms or behaviors are more common in those with bipolar, including:

  • Higher rates of impulsivity
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Difficulty maintaining stable relationships
  • Prone to reckless behavior when manic

These traits may make purposeful manipulation more likely in some cases. One small 2001 study found higher rates of manipulative behaviors in those with bipolar compared to the general population when manic symptoms were controlled for.

However, these findings have not been robustly replicated. Most experts agree there is no clear evidence that those with bipolar are inherently more manipulative. They are no more likely to be manipulative than the average person when their mood disorder is properly managed.

What are some signs of purposeful bipolar manipulation?

While not inherent to the disorder, some people with bipolar may purposefully manipulate in certain situations. This is often driven by specific goals or triggers. Some signs may include:

  • Lying or distorting facts to gain sympathy or resources
  • Exaggerating symptoms when they want something
  • Using threats of self-harm to control others
  • Blaming all bad behavior on bipolar episodes
  • Threatening to stop taking medication if demands are not met

These types of manipulation require some degree of planning and forethought. They do not stem from the impulsive or reckless decision making of mania. If you observe these behaviors, discuss it with the person when they are stable and thinking clearly. Ongoing manipulation should not be excused as just a bipolar symptom. Maintaining boundaries and expectations is important.

What causes manipulative behaviors in bipolar?

If someone with well-managed bipolar does exhibit chronic manipulation, what may drive this? Some potential causes include:

Personality traits

While not directly caused by bipolar, some personality traits or even separate disorders may occur alongside the mood disorder. For example, research shows higher rates of antisocial and borderline personality disorders among those with bipolar. These can both involve manipulative behaviors.

Attachment issues

Any chronic disorder that arises early in life can disrupt healthy attachment and relating to others. Some with bipolar struggle with abandonment fears if loved ones pull away during episodes. Fears around abandonment may drive manipulation in close relationships.

Substance abuse

Rates of addiction are exceedingly high among people with bipolar, with over 60% struggling with drugs or alcohol. intoxication lowers inhibitions, impairs judgment, and makes manipulative behavior more likely.

Learned behavior

In some cases, chronic manipulation may simply be a learned behavior. If the person’s actions went unchecked during manic episodes, it can reinforce manipulative tendencies. The person learns they can sometimes “get away” with extreme behaviors due to their condition. This may lead to manipulation becoming a lifelong habit.

Can medication make bipolar people more manipulative?

Some wonder if medication used to treat bipolar may actually increase manipulative tendencies in some people. There are a few reasons this concern arises:

Medication may improve energy just enough to increase motivation for manipulation

Depression often saps motivation to follow through with complex plans like manipulation. When first beginning medication, a person’s energy may be slightly elevated before full mood stabilization. This small energy boost may give them motivation to act on any manipulative thoughts present.

However, once mood is fully stabilized for 4-6 weeks, this risk diminishes. Ongoing bipolar manipulation on medication is likely due to other factors in the individual – not the medicine itself.

Mood stabilizers may have cognitive side effects

Lithium in particular may impair memory, concentration, or decision-making. This may lower inhibitions and contribute to impulsive behaviors. However, these side effects are rarely severe enough to cause new manipulative behaviors if none were present before. Most people on long-term lithium experience very mild cognitive changes overall.

Some claim steroids can trigger hypomania

A small percentage of people may experience a slight manic activation from steroid medications. Corticosteroids are sometimes used short-term to treat bipolar depression. If such medicines trigger mild hypomania, the poor judgment involved may prompt manipulative behavior in the moment.

However, this reaction is uncommon. Doctors closely monitor anyone on steroids for such effects. Overall, most modern medicines used to treat bipolar do not directly make people more manipulative. Proper medication helps regulate mood and can reduce impulsive behaviors.

How to handle manipulation from someone with bipolar

If you feel you are being manipulated by a person with bipolar disorder, here are some tips to respond in a constructive way:

  • Have an open talk when the person’s mood is stable. Do not accuse but explain how certain behaviors make you feel.
  • Acknowledge their bipolar struggles and say you want to support their healing.
  • Suggest speaking to their doctor if manipulation seems driven by medication issues or manic episodes.
  • Set clear boundaries for what behavior you will not accept, bipolar or not.
  • Encourage counseling or therapy to build healthy relating skills.
  • Step away if needed until the person shows willingness to change.

Being supportive yet firm is crucial. Make it clear you care about the person but will not enable anything that crosses your boundaries. Ongoing manipulation should not be excused. With professional treatment and self-awareness, even chronic patterns can change for the better over time.


Bipolar disorder involves severe shifts in mood that are not under a person’s control. During manic episodes especially, some people with bipolar may act impulsively or make reckless decisions that manipulate others without intending to. However, purposeful, planned manipulation is not a key trait of bipolar itself.

Factors like personality disorders, past conditioning, or substance abuse may drive chronic manipulation in some individuals with bipolar, but this holds true for the general population as well. Likewise, while medications may cause some side effects, they do not directly make someone more manipulative overall.

If manipulation becomes a real issue from someone with bipolar, compassionate boundaries are important. Make it clear the behavior is unacceptable to you, while also encouraging the person’s treatment and stability. With care and accountability, even ingrained patterns of manipulation can evolve for anyone willing to do the work.